Again playing without two of their top three scorers, the Toronto Raptors put together a strong effort before falling short in their last game.
The Chicago Bulls delivered a less-than-inspiring performance their last time out despite getting two key players back from injury.
With Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng back in action, the Bulls look to rebound from a disappointing outing Wednesday night when they visit the Raptors, who could again be without Jermaine O’Neal and Jose Calderon.
O’Neal has missed eight straight games with a sore right knee, the latest in a series of leg injuries that has bothered the six-time All-Star over the last five seasons.
Calderon, meanwhile, has missed five of Toronto’s last six games with a sore right hamstring. The fourth-year point guard, averaging career highs of 12.9 points and 8.5 assists, returned to play in a 94-88 home loss to Boston on Sunday, but wasn’t available for Monday night’s rematch with the Celtics.
Without both O’Neal and Calderon, the Raptors (16-23) forced overtime before eventually falling 115-109 to the defending NBA champs.
“Our guys fought,” Raptors coach Jay Triano said. “I was pleased with our performance. … We just remind our guys that we have to keep being aggressive and keep taking the ball to the basket, and I think that’s how we’ll become a better basketball team.”
Getting O’Neal and Calderon back would help as well, but it’s unclear if either player will be available Wednesday.
The Bulls have already welcomed back two key players that returned earlier than expected.
Hinrich missed 31 games with a torn ligament in his right thumb before coming back Monday, his first game action since Nov. 7. Deng also returned from an eight-game absence due to a sprained ankle, but Chicago (16-22) was outscored 88-67 over the final three quarters of a 109-95 home loss to Portland.
After the lackluster performance, first-year Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro focused on the good news.
“It’s good to have Kirk and Luol back,” said Del Negro, now faced with the task of splitting up playing time between 11 healthy players averaging 15 minutes or more. “Now we have to work on our rotation, our minutes and our practice time and get back on track. … You hope it will affect the team well, but you don’t know.”
Hinrich knows the Bulls have a lot of work to do, but he’s eager to get back in the mix and turn around what has been a disappointing season.
“We need to do everything better,” said Hinrich, who had four points in 21 minutes off the bench Monday. “Defensively, rebounding, offense. Hopefully, we can improve moving forward.”
The Bulls have plenty of room for improvement on the road, where they’ve lost eight of their last nine to fall to 4-15 on the season. After winning seven straight games at Air Canada Centre, Chicago’s lost its last two trips to Toronto, including 93-78 in its only visit last season.
Raptors forward Chris Bosh had 16 points and 13 rebounds in that game, but was held to 12.7 points per game - 9.6 below his season average - as the Raptors won two of three against the Bulls in 2007-08.